A demanding day in District Court
Although visitors are scarce and many summer homes still have boards on the windows, one part of Edgartown was alive with action last week. Thursday's District Court session had two significant criminal cases, a Portuguese interpreter was lined up for Interpreter Day, and Fox News was there to document it all on camera.
The camera crew was interested in the novelty of Interpreter Day, which usually features a long list of motor vehicle related cases, and they stayed for the conviction of Richard Abrazinski on a charge of witness intimidation. But the cameras were gone before Richard Santos pled guilty to three counts of indecent assault and battery of a child under 14.
Thursday, although busy, was not unusually so. The Edgartown District Court has a criminal caseload similar to courts in Newton, Natick, Brookline, and Charlestown, according to clerk magistrate Liza Williamson, and the types of cases that come through the Island courthouse are strikingly similar to those in many communities in the Boston area.
Fox New reporter Alison Bologna observed last Thursday's proceedings while the cameraman, Rich Ward, manned the television camera. Photos by Ralph Stewart
"We get the same array of cases as you would see in other courts with similar numbers," Ms. Williamson said. "We really run the gamut here."
One thing that does set the small Island court apart is the size of its staff. Where the Edgartown District Court has one clerk magistrate - Ms. Williamson - Natick has one clerk magistrate and one assistant, and Newton can afford three assistants.
Another unique quality is that Superior Court sessions occur twice a year. Unlike some larger courts that have a Superior Court that is constantly in session, the Edgartown court holds a brief session in the spring and fall. The spring session begins Tuesday, when a jury will be selected, and runs until May 4. The fall session, presided over by Judge Judith Fabricant, saw an array of jury trials, sentencing, and criminal and civil matters. Last Thursday's proceedings included the typically rich array of cases that filter through the Edgartown when court is in session.
Fox News sideshow
Filing into the Edgartown courtroom last Thursday, it was impossible to miss the one thing that was not like the others.
Just shy of 9 am, the bailiff hushed the packed crowd and announced that a television crew would be taping the morning's proceedings. Shortly thereafter Rich Ward, the cameraman from Fox 25 News in Boston, began to set up his cumbersome equipment in front of the fence, an area normally reserved for counsel. A heavily made-up reporter, Alison Bologna, was lingering nearby.
Richard Abrazinski stood with his lawyer, Robert Manning of Barnstable, last Thursday while he was being sentenced for intimidating a witness.
Ms. Bologna said the Fox news director saw a March 8 Times article titled, "District Court holds regular Interpreter Day," and decided it was a topic their viewers would be interested in. They traveled to the Island Thursday to cover the Interpreter proceedings.
Mr. Ward filmed the first call, where the names of all cases on the docket that day are read, and the majority of the second call. The cameraman seemed to take the most interest in the back-and-forth dialogue that took place between the judge, the Portuguese Interpreter, and the defendant.
During the recess between first and second call, Ms. Bologna asked a gentleman in the audience who spoke both English and Portuguese to act as translator between her and various defendants. She sat down and chatted with a few Brazilians, while some others appeared to be camera-shy.
Ms. Bologna, who, according to her Fox 25 profile has won an Emmy Award and two Associated Press Awards, sat with legs splayed to the side and eyes rolled to the ceiling in apparent boredom for much of the proceedings. Granted, most of the court's work was of little interest to her - during a break, she said her family owned a home on Nantucket.
The lineup for Thursday's Interpreter Day presented cases similar to so many on previous occasions when a Portuguese interpreter has been employed to translate the proceedings. The majority of the more than one dozen defendants were arraigned on charges of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, with additional lights or marked lanes violation.
Judge Williams gave the standard lines asking if the defendant wanted to resolve the matter that day, and if they understood the charges.
Individuals who must appear in court, but who do not speak English and need an interpreter, are summoned on those days when a translator is available. The Edgartown court corresponds with the Office of Court Interpreter Services (OCIS), based out of the Massachusetts court system's administrative offices in Boston. OCIS has 22 full-time interpreters on staff, as well as nearly 200 contracted interpreters. In 2005, the office fulfilled approximately 90,000 requests for interpreters, and the numbers are growing.
Eighty percent of the interpreter requests in Massachusetts are for Spanish language translations. The next most requested language is Portuguese, which is rising dramatically, an OCIS official said. The vast majority of translator requests for the Edgartown district court are for Portuguese.
On that same day Richard Abrazinski of Oak Bluffs was sentenced to one year in the Dukes County House of Correction, after being convicted by a jury last month of intimidation of a witness. The sentence will be tacked on to the 18-month sentence he is currently serving for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
Mr. Abrazinski's case presents a major success for the small Edgartown courthouse, according to Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard.
"That is not a charge I see frequently on the Vineyard," Ms. Marshard said of the intimidation charge. "It's a charge that law enforcement takes extremely seriously. If you don't have victims and witnesses who feel able to go forward, then the ability to prosecute disintegrates."
In court Thursday, Ms. Marshard ran through the defendant's criminal record, which includes convictions for burglary, theft, and receiving stolen property, and three separate stays in state prison. Ms. Marshard recounted the original events that took place to warrant the assault charge. She said Mr. Abrazinski went to the victim's home where he first embraced him in an affectionate matter, before punching him in the face and knocking him to the floor. Once on the floor, he kicked the victims face with his boot, fracturing a facial bone.
Mr. Abrazinski was charged and convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and started serving 18 months in the House of Correction on Dec. 11.
Around the time of his arraignment for that charge, Mr. Abrazinski told the witness that if he went to jail, "he had family who could take care of him," according to a disposition read in court Thursday by Ms. Marshard. On March 14, a jury convicted him on the charge of intimidation of a witness, and he was sentenced Thursday.
After the camera crew cleared out and only a handful of people remained in the courtroom, a plea deal was struck between the state and Richard Santos. Mr. Santos pled guilty to three counts of indecent assault and battery of a child under 14, and was sentenced to 2.5 years in the Dukes County House of Correction for each charge, and four years probation.
Judge Williams ordered that two of those years be served, with the balance suspended for the remainder of his probation. Mr. Santos was also instructed to register as a sex offender, go through sex offender counseling, stay away from the victim and her family, and is prohibited from having unsupervised contact with females under 16.
The penalty was the most severe district court sentence Ms. Marshard has seen in her three years at the Island court, she said. "I want the community to be safe. I want these girls to be safe," she said after the sentencing. "We have addressed all of our concerns - meeting the victim's needs and hearing he victim's voice, deterring, punishing, and most importantly, perhaps, keeping the community safe. Protecting other potential future victims."
Mr. Santos, 72, has a lengthy record of assault. Ms. Marshard, in her disposition to the court, said although she didn't have details about the cases, Mr. Santos had been "committed" in 1964 for indecent assault and battery on a child and again in 1967 for unnatural acts.
But the case that had Mr. Santos in the Island court last week involved a series of incidents that took place throughout the summer of 2004. Mr. Marshard said on several occasions, Mr. Santos engaged in indecent conversations, and touched and exposed himself to an 11-year-old girl in his Tisbury residence.
The court heard a statement from the girl's stepmother, who tearfully said the victim's attitude changed, performance in school wavered, and relationships with her family members became strained following that summer. She said she and the victim's father did not become aware of the incident until two years after it occurred.
Ms. Marshard then read heart-wrenching victim impact statements from the victim and her father. In the statement, the victim said she was scared to tell anyone about the incident and now finds it hard to trust adults.
Ms. Marshard said the plea deal was agreed in order to spare the victim, now 14. "The Commonwealth agreed to this disposition, largely to spare the victim of going through a trial," Ms. Marshard said in court Thursday. "This would have been a very difficult process for her to go through."
After sentencing Mr. Santos, Judge Williams made his sentiments about the case clear. "Given what you have done to this young girl, I think you're getting off light," Judge Williams said in court. "But I'm willing to go along with it for the reasons articulated by the Commonwealth, chiefly that to put a young girl through a trial of this kind would be extremely traumatic."